"Big Four" Highlights


Roses Among Thorns

A saint for the modern soul

By Jason Godin, Fathers for Good Associate Editor

Personal letters help document the extraordinary history of humanity. Before email or even the printing press, handwritten notes declared love between man and woman, announced the birth of babies, chronicled children coming of age, transmitted lessons between generations and mourned the passing of loved ones. Pages of paper with ink, saved in stamped envelopes, shared steps and missteps in life later cherished as meaningful mementos.

St. Francis de Sales, an early 17th century bishop from Geneva, wrote a wealth of letters treasured today for their spiritual wisdom. In Roses Among Thorns (Sophia Institute Press), Christopher O. Blum translates and edits 60 short passages drawn from three volumes of those letters published originally in French. In just over 111 pages, the reader receives insights from de Sales about a wide range of topics including depression, desire, devotion, discernment, pain, patience, perseverance, rest and restlessness.

Blum, 45, teaches philosophy and church history in the Graduate School of Theology at the Augustine Institute in Greenwood Village, Colorado. He and his wife, Kathleen, live with their two children in Denver. Blum recently spoke with Fathers for Good about his latest book.

Fathers for Good: You’ve edited and translated The Sign of the Cross (Sophia Institute Press, 2013), also from the works of St. Francis de Sales. What makes Roses Among Thorns different?

Christopher O. Blum: While The Sign of the Cross is a work of apologetics and catechetics, Roses Among Thorns is a book of meditations drawn from the letters of spiritual direction written by St. Francis de Sales. The former can be read at a single sitting (or two or three), treating as it does one topic. The latter volume is best read over a month’s time, a couple of chapters at a time, as spiritual reading.

FFG: What about St. Francis de Sales still makes him so accessible to the modern reader? Is it the message or the way he delivers it?

Blum: Certainly the mode of de Sales’ teaching is distinctive: in all of his works he teaches from and in a context of friendship. And this quality is what makes him so dear to readers today (as well as in the 17th century). Other great Christian writers such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas can be approached as friends, but there is a fair amount of work for us to do as readers to make that approach. In de Sales’ case, he meets us along the way, much as Our Lord himself did, with plain, matter-of-fact teaching clothed in humble, everyday images and metaphors.

FFG: What advice from St. Francis de Sales do you believe fathers most need today?

Blum: The need to cultivate patience, meekness and humility is at the center of de Sales’ spiritual direction. As a father myself, I can testify to the importance of attempting to grow in those virtues with God’s help. But there is also a consistent teaching here about the virtue of courage generally, especially as it manifests itself in perseverance, and that theme is equally important. We need to be mild, forgiving and understanding fathers for our children, but we also need to be men of God pursuing Christ with determination. Achieving the balance between the two can be a challenge, but it is the challenge to which we are called.

ENGAGE AND INTERACT: What saint speaks to your heart in your daily struggles?